Disclaimer: I purchased this from drivethrurpg.com and am not being paid to review this product. This review covers the PDF version of the product, not the print version.
In the interest of putting more reviews up on this site, I looked through my collection for something I purchased but have yet to really read or dig into. I picked up the PDF for RuneQuest 6 a while back based solely off of the cover art. It has sat on my iPad for about a year, and I have made a couple of attempts to get through it, but other things have always come up. So last night I sat down to read through it, for the purposes of reviewing it for this site.
And so far I am pleasantly surprised.
I should point out, that I have never picked up a RuneQuest book before. For the longest time, its percentile system put it firmly in the “I will never read it” genre of RPGs. But recent game experiences have opened me up to trying more percentile systems. That being said, here comes the review.
The book was laid out by Fred Hicks, and if you are familiar with his work this is very evident. The pages are clean looking, in a nice 2 column format, and makes good use of white space. There is not a huge amount of art, and with a book of 458 pages, you are getting huge amount of text.
I am reading this on my old iPad 1. The font and font size work well on the iPad. More than that, it took me about 45 minutes to realize that I had no lag. This PDF is very nice to read on the iPad, but more than that it is only 36 MB. With its light art and crisp black and white pages, it runs smooth on even the oldest iPad. Page load time is something I struggle with on the Paizo pdfs, so this is a huge bonus in my book.
Again the art is very light compared with Paizo products. But the art that is included is very thematic and I feel it helps punctate the gritty feel of the rules.
The book starts with a forward by Steve Perrin (one of the original designers), and an introduction on what RuneQuest is. It also included the following design goals, which I am keeping in mind as I read to try to gauge how well they accomplished them:
– To recapture the spirit and feel of the earlier editions of RuneQuest.
– Provide a comprehensive fantasy roleplaying game that capitalizes on RuneQuest’s strengths.
– Streamline the system, but also introduce new mechanics and systems that reflect what is happening in 21st Century roleplaying games.
– Bring RuneQuest to a new audience, and continue to care for its old fans.
The first five chapters outline the player character. Chapters 1-3 cover character creation, chapter 4 explains how skills work, and chapter 5 covers equipment.
Basic character creation is covered in the chapter of the same name. RuneQuest is a game with no classes, in that you are not locked into any role, and any character can learn any skill over the course of the game. This chapter walks you through generating characteristics and deriving attributes. At this point, RuneQuest feels very similar to most other fantasy rpgs. 3d6 (or 2d6+6) are used for generation of the characteristics, and then some basic addition/chart comparison for the attributes. You have multiple ways to generate these characteristics, which will feel very familiar to most RPG’ers.
At this point you also fill out the base percentages for all of the “standard skills”. These are skills that that everyone has access to. 21 of them in fact. While your skills at this point are not great, the system provides a baseline of skills that everyone can attempt. I really enjoy systems that provide ‘everyman’ skills (to steal a Hero term).
Chapter Two moves your character from a concept to being more firmly rooted in the world. You pick a culture that your character hails from. The choices are primitive, barbarian, nomadic, and civilized. Your culture gives you access to professional skills (skills you can only take training in if you are granted access to them), a handful of standard skills that can be increased due to cultural familiarity, and some combat styles that are prevalent in the culture. Combat styles are covered more in the combat section, but for now, they are a grouping of weapons that your character has training in. You then gain 100 percentage points to split up between the professional and standard skills and combat styles, increasing your base chance with each of them.
You culture also gives you three starting Passions, which while an optional rule, provides some depth to character right off the bat. This chapter also includes some random tables to flesh out your character’s background more. Part of this is establishing your character’s social class, which helps determine starting gear and money.
The final step of character creation is picking your career. Your choices are limited by your culture, but are very open ended on how you can interpret each career. For example, the Agent career could mean your character is a detective, a spy or an assassin. And this chapter makes it clear, that although this is where you start, your character can evolve out of this career as you like. Like your cultural choice, you gain access to skills and styles, and have 100 percentage points to distribute. You also gain bonus points for your age, and then a starting equipment package based off your social standing.
Character creation seems nice and smooth; I worked up a magic user in about 20 minutes after finishing these chapters. The simplicity of having 100 points to split between skills (with minimums and maximums allotment) and the ability to see the immediate benefit of going from a 43% in a skill to a 53% is very nice. The most time intensive part of this process was the looking up the root percentage of all of the profession skills (which like the standard skills is the addition of 2 characteristics). I feel like it would be a simple system to walk through and explain to players.
I feel that having a campaign setting handout with the cultures tied to specific nations or regions in the setting would add a lot to the creation process. It is comprehensive and setting neutral, but gives a GM a lot of load bearing choices to hang a story on.
This section is an in-depth look at the skills and how they are applied in the game. The system is a simple roll under your skill. Criticals happen when your roll is 10% or less of your total skill, and fumbles happen on 99%-100%. The base difficulty rating system for the game is a little confusing. The task difficulty modifies the skill value. Very Easy tasks double the skill before rolling, while some difficulties reduce it to a third of the skill or a tenth.
The book offers an alternative scaling where the task difficulty gives the skill a straight bonus or penalty. Very Easy tasks give the skill a +40% while the herculean tasks give the skill in question a -80%. This seems far easier to divine for players than a third of 54%. I think that if I were to run the game, I would use the simplified difficulty grade rules.
One rule which stood out that I thought was interesting was the Capping rule. Basically it is a situation where one skill would limit the effectiveness of another. For example, your attack skill could be limited by your boating skill while fighting at sea. It is an interesting interaction of skills that I have not seen in very many game systems, yet can provide a plethora of interesting encounter based obstacles
Economics and Equipment. Here we find the rules not only for gear and materials, but also for bartering, haggling, and crafting. In all respects it is a standard equipment section of a gaming book.
Game Mechanics is a catch all chapter for everything that doesn’t fall under the Combat or Magic sections. From Acid to Weather, we have a ton of unique mechanics covering a plethora of rules situations. When I initially entered this section I felt like it was disjointed, but the basic rules are very simple, so a chapter like this only covers the specifics. It actually works out quite nicely.
This chapter also includes the rules for advancement which caught my eye as being unique. The GM hands out experience rolls not experience points. You then make a d100 roll + your INT. If you roll under your skill it increases by 1%, if you roll over you gain a d4+1 %. It is a pretty simple and elegant way of advancing skills.
You can advance characteristics, but it costs you an experience roll. You must keep spending new rolls to maintain the characteristic increase; otherwise you drop back to your starting value.
Finally, there are great rules for learning new skills. In this game, anyone can learn any skill; including the skills that let you work magic. It makes for a great system that allows characters to grow as they want to instead of following a path.
The heart of the combat system, like the heart of the rules system, is the skill roll. You have action points that dictate how many actions you can take each round (both active and passive). The opposed skill roll for attack and defense will net the winner not just damage or defense, but special effect points they can use to take on extra rule effects to their roll. These are based on weapons and combat styles, but they allow an attacker to bypass armor, damage their opponent’s weapon or kill silently, while the defender can stand from prone, entangle their opponent, or overextend their opponents. The game is gritty, and you can find yourself out of action points which gives your opponent free reign in the attack against you.
Some of the combat system adds a level of depth and crunch that you may not need or choose not to focus on, but overall it is a solid system that evokes a combat filled with deadly choices that may leave you maimed.
Conclusion Part 1:
So I covered the 166 pages out of 458 for this book. I must say RuneQuest caught me by surprise. It is a simple system that builds on itself, and provides a variety of options for players and GMs, without getting bogged down in special abilities and feat-like choices.
Granted, I have yet to tackle magic. But right now, if I were to run a Malazan Books of the Fallen game (and if the magic of this game would fit), this game has shot to the top of a very short list of systems I would use. Which, while this is a vague reference for those who don’t know me very well, let me say it is very high praise. I will save my final thoughts for the third post, but for now I am very impressed with RuneQuest.
(Also a special shout out to my editor, who edits these reviews. He makes my thought spew readable!)